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18 July 2012 (In the most unexpected place)

July 18, 2012

Israeli airport security
is truly a one of a kind experience.
Not only do they give you a hard time
entering their country
they give you just as an equal hard time
on your way out.

Today’s entry will be about the entering part.
(I have a guest post by Yuval coming soon
about his recent experience guiding Japanese clients
on their way out.)

I have learned that
being East Asian,
a woman,
and traveling solo,
sets off screaming sirens
in the heads of Israeli security officers.

My most memorable experience to date
was with El Al Airlines this past February
when I was flying back from Japan.
I’ve been meaning to write about that experience
but haven’t been able to after 5 months
because my blood still boils at the thought of it.
I want to wait until I am able to write about it objectively
but at this rate I will never have an entry
for the 19th of February.

What I will say about that experience now is
I felt I was treated like a criminal.
At the boarding gate I was ordered
to sit in a roped off area with officers stationed every few meters
as a result of racial profiling at its finest.
Those of us subject to extensive inspection
of our carry-on luggage
were all exclusively East Asians.
Whenever one of us tried to stand up or move even slightly
we were met with “NO, NO NO!”
It was like a temporary jail.

(My check-in luggage didn’t even make the flight,
probably due to extensive inspection.
When I got it delivered the next day,
the contents were a ransacked mess,
the suitcase broken.)

I don’t know what kind of questions
my fellow “criminals” had to answer to be put in the “jail” but
I had to answer some really personal questions
about my relationship with Yuval
and my life in Israel
thrown at me in a suspecting, aggressive tone.
With every question I felt my skin harden
and become more and more defensive.
How I wished I could have told them to fuck off,
you’ll actually be doing me a favor
by rejecting my entry in to Israel
.

So when I was standing in line in France recently
for my flight back to Israel,
I started feeling anxiety and dread at what awaited me.
I also felt the potential of myself snapping
and really shouting that fuck off this time.
Be nice, be nice,” I kept on telling myself.

But when a security officer did eventually approach me
and asked me to follow him to a separate counter,
I felt a strange calm spreading inside me.
I somehow made a decision right then and there
to not fight them but to play along.
It also helped that these officers were polite
and apologized beforehand for having to ask
some very personal questions.

While the questioning was going fine,
and even at one point one of the officers and I
realized we’ve been to the same dance studio in Paris,
I kept my guard on, my wall up,
fearing for that one question to send me over the edge.
But as one of the officers walked away
to get Yuval on the phone,
the officer that stayed with me said softly,
“It must have been hard to go
from a job in television
to working in the kibbutz.”

I don’t even know how I answered him then,
but it was the last thing I expected to hear
from he who was supposed to be
my interrogator,
my enemy.
It was something I didn’t quite realize while it was happening
but has come back to me again and again afterwards.

It made me realize those few words he said
was something
I
so
desperately
wanted
to be acknowledged about.
And I got it
in the most unexpected place.

This interaction didn’t immediately soften me
towards Israeli security.
But it has allowed me to replace
my worst memory of it
with this one.

And more than anything
it has made me sincerely hope
that I can provide a random act of kindness
to somebody, some day,
like that security officer did for me.

イスラエルの空港セキュリティーは
本当に格別である。
イスラエルに入国する際
厳しくチェックされるのはわかるけど
出国する時も同じぐらい
厳しいチェックにあう。

今日のエントリーは入国する際について。
(後日ユバルが最近日本から来たクライアントを
出国する際誘導した体験のエントリーをアップします。)

東アジア人であり、
女性であり、
毎回一人で旅をしてきた私は
イスラエル人空港セキュリティースタッフの頭の中で
サイレンが鳴り出す対象であることは
経験を重ねてわかってきたこと。

最も記憶に残っている経験は
今年二月に日本から戻って来たときのエル・アル航空のフライト。
この経験のことをずっと書きたいとは思ってきたのだが
五ヶ月たっても未だに書けないのは
思い出すたびまだ怒りがわき起こるため。
客観的に書けるようになったら書こうと思うのだが
この様子だといつまでたっても
2月19日のエントリーは更新できなさそう。

今この経験について言えることは
まるで犯罪者のように扱われた気がしたこと。
搭乗ゲートの入り口の横にはロープで仕切られたスペースがあり
数メートルごとにセキュリティースタッフが立っていた。
その中に入れられ手荷物の厳重チェックを受けていたのは
全員東アジア人。
ちょっとでも動こうとするとスタッフから「ノー」の指示。
まるで牢屋だった。

(ちなみにスーツケースはフライトを乗り過ごした。
恐らく厳重チェックのせいだろう。
翌日家に届いたスーツケースの中身はぐちゃぐちゃで、
完全に閉まらない状態に壊されていた。)

他の人がどのような質問を受けこの「牢屋」に来たのか知らなかったけど
私はユバルとの関係やイスラエルでの生活について
非常にプライベートな質問を
とても攻撃的で疑い深い聞き方でされた。
新しい質問をされるたびに自分の体がどんどん硬直し
防御的になるのを感じた。
どれだけいい加減にして、と言いたかったことか。

なので先日フランスで
イスラエル行きの便にチェックインするため並んでいた時、
避けられない尋問に対して不安と同時に憂鬱になった。
また、過去の経験を思い出すたびに怒りがこみあげ
今度こそキレてしまう自分が頭に浮かんだ。
そのたびに「落ち着いて、落ち着いて」と自分に言い聞かせた。

でも実際セキュリティーの人が近づいてきて
別のカウンターへ来てくださいと言われた時、
不思議なことに自分が平穏になるのを感じた。
どういうわけかその瞬間、
戦うのではなく協力しよう、と自分の中で決心したのだ。
また今回の人達は今までに比べて礼儀正しく
事前にプライベートな質問をしなくてはいけないことについて謝ってきた。

尋問は比較的スムーズにいき、
スタッフのうち一人が私と同じパリのダンススタジオに行ったことを発見するなど
ムードが軽くなる時もあったが、
私がキレてしまうような質問がいつ飛んでくるのかと
気を張っていた。
スタッフのうち一人がユバルと電話で話すため私たちを離れると
残った男性スタッフが小さな声で言った。
「マスコミ関係の仕事から
キブツで働くようになったのは
とても大変だっただろうね。」

それに対して自分が何を答えたのかは覚えてないけど
この人の口から予期していなかった言葉だった。
だってこの人は私の尋問官、
私の敵なはずだ。
その当時は何が起こったのかわからなかったけど
後から何度も思い出すことになる瞬間だった。

後で気付いたのは
この男性が言ったことは、
自分が誰かに認識してもらいたかったことなのだった。
それが思いがけない場所で、思いがけない人に
わかってもらえた。

この出来事はイスラエルのセキュリティーに対する
私の思いを一瞬にしてポジティブにはしなかったけど
最悪な思い出を
この思い出に塗り替えることができた。

そして何よりも私もいつか
あのセキュリティーの男性が私に無意識にしてくれたように
誰かに対してちょっとした親切な行為ができたらいいな
と思った。

Much love,
Kaori

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2012 6:50 pm

    I admire your ability to stay calm and am so glad your patience was rewarded with kindness. After dozens of flights, a total of two guards have reached out to me, both El Al employees — one told her coworker to back off when he kept insisting my then-boyfriend must not really love me, and the other told me that the poor treatment isn’t my fault, and that I shouln’t travel without my Israeli partner to or from Israel. I’ll never forget their kindness either!

    • July 19, 2012 7:09 pm

      It’s so rare to have those security people on your side that when it happens it’s really unforgettable, isn’t it?? The nerve of that one employee to tell you your then-boyfriend must not really love you, if I had heard this before coming to Israel I wouldn’t have believed you but now I totally can (sadly)!

  2. July 23, 2012 5:22 pm

    I am so with you on this post! I had bad experiences travelling alone with El Al, faced with all these security questions and being treated like a terrorist… But my Israeli partner always reminds me to be confident and calm because it could get worse if I am not. Anyways, I have decided not to fly El Al again. It might be stupid and not so safe but I’m usually quite happy not flying with them. Love your writing. Keep on writing!🙂

    • July 23, 2012 6:31 pm

      Thank you blackbirde! I contemplated posting this but I am glad that I did. I actually thought of you along with my few other friends with Israeli partners when writing this. I’m glad to know that I am not alone!
      I too have decided not to ever fly again with El Al, and just hope that I’ll never find myself having to anyway because of logistical reasons!
      And your partner is right, I loosened up this time and even tried to have fun with security (almost) and I had a much less painful experience.

      • July 23, 2012 11:26 pm

        My Israeli gives the security guards high fives when we travel together, makes inside jokes about military and security stuff I don’t understand, and gives the guards this poignant “come on, buddy, this is obviously not an issue” look if they ask personal questions about our relationship. I have yet to master this charismatic nonchalance and doubt I ever will, but it is definitely the key to surviving the process🙂

      • July 24, 2012 3:42 pm

        That is awesome. Your Israeli clearly knows how to deal with those people! Yuval goes out of his way to be polite and friendly with security as well as bureaucracy… he says it’s not worth fighting them. He usually succeeds in charming them or at least getting a smile out of them. I on the other hand, if left to my own devices, would probably have end up in a big fight with them half the time!

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